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12 July 2013

Hoard Placement June 2013

I’m currently studying conservation at the University of Lincoln, having just completed my graduate diploma and will be starting the Masters course in September. I have had the good fortune to spend June working with the Staffordshire Hoard Conservators on various items in the Staffordshire Hoard, but I have also spent time working with BMAG Conservator, Alex Cantrill, on some objects that are going into the new Islamic calligraphy exhibition. I find the hoard particularly interesting as I live in Staffordshire myself, born and raised a few miles away from where the Hoard was found, so it’s been a real pleasure to be involved in cleaning these beautiful objects.

Conserving the hoard

Image 1: Conserving the hoard

I’ve conserved quite a few items over the month, but one of my favourites is this gold sword hilt plate.

The hilt plate before treatment

Image 2: The hilt plate before treatment

It’s been bent, crumpled and damaged during removal and burial, and you can see in the image above a soil-filled setting that once held a garnet. What really interested me was that when I started removing the soil I discovered the garnet on the other end was still in place.

Garnet up-close

Image 3: Garnet up-close

It was covered in soil when I found it, so I was the first person to see that garnet since it had been buried. And, probably, I was the first person to really study that garnet since the craftsman carefully put it there 1300 years ago. Under the microscope, it’s a perfect hemisphere.

The cover after cleaning

Image 4: The cover after cleaning

Another garnet piece that I worked on was this gold corner piece with cloisonné garnet decoration (see image 5 and 6) was a lovely artefact to work on. The amount of attention to detail and skill needed to make this kind of object is staggering.

The gold corner piece before and after cleaning

Image 5 and 6: The gold corner piece before and after cleaning

I’m particularly taken with the dimpled gold foil they placed underneath each garnet to refract the light and make the garnets glitter. It’s so delicate and so exact, and really indicates the sophistication of their equipment as well as their manual dexterity (the blog post Observed Backing Foils on Cloisonné Objects can tell you a lot more about backing foils).

But I have a special soft spot for the first item I cleaned – this filigree snake design panel.

Filigree panel

Image 7: Filigree panel

In the magnified image above, you can make out the head in the bottom left and the tail end in the top right. The person who made this managed to make a recognisable snake’s head in gold 1mm across, and it wasn’t a one off – he was making objects like this every day, consistently and routinely, 1000 years before microscopes were invented, and achieved a delicacy that we would struggle to.

What a pleasure to be able to work on artefacts like this with the excuse of it being good for my career. How lucky we are to have access to treasures that so recently in their journey were held in 7th Century hands! It’s been a great month.

Peter Brown,
Student Placement

Has it been confirmed that the stone in image 3 is a garnet?
The surface seems to lack the high polish that the garnets usually retain after so long in the ground. It also looks to have a round scratch on the top which is unusual as garnet is quite brittle and fractures easily.
I would be interested to see whether this is in fact garnet or turns out to be glass.